“A Holocaust is around the corner!”, “Eichmann would have been proud!”, “Who is next?” scream Russia’s liberal bloggers. State-controlled TV, as well as pro-Kremlin and numerous Orthodox websites are sending quite a different message; “They are after our children!”, “Gays are Russia’s shame!” and “Nip this danger in the bud!”
The “Law for the prevention of homosexual propaganda to minors” sailed through its first reading in the Duma, but it also aroused tensions that are unparalleled even by the standards of contemporary Russia (where the government is hardly shy about issuing bans and curtailing civil liberties).
This law has already been branded “homophobic” by numerous high-placed officials and influential organizations, such as the EU High representative Catherine Ashton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It imposes fines on those individuals or organizations that engage in “homosexual propaganda among minors.”
The Russian Duma is pressing on with its adoption-related initiatives, while for many in Russia’s weakened and disparate opposition gay rights have become the latest rallying cry. On both sides of the political divide grotesque exaggeration thrives as camouflage for unpleasant truths.
The Kremlin has ordered the pliant Duma to adopt the law, which is a world away from the Nazi regime’s persecution of homosexuals. As a piece of legislation, it pursues two aims, the first being to bolster its standing in provincial Russia, Vladimir Putin’s main power base. There, in Perm or Khabarovsk, relaxed metropolitan attitudes to homosexuality are rarely if ever voiced.
Its other aim is to distract public opinion away from the one theme that is of real concern to Russia’s ruling elite: the US “Magnitsky Act” and the Kremlin’s response to it – a blanket ban on US citizens adopting Russian children.
The law is formulated in such deliberately vague and general terms that it virtually gives enforcement officials carte blanche to harass gay activists, or anyone they choose, for a range of activities so broad that it even encompasses publicly reading poems by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (who was also bisexual) near a school. On the bright side, few people here believe that the law will actually be implemented as it would bring nothing but embarrassment.
On the opposition side, the gay rights lobby seized the opportunity to incorporate its demands into the wider opposition narrative of the struggle with the Kremlin.
Some Russian opposition leaders say that advocating gay rights, although a noble endeavour in itself, does not help the Kremlin’s opponents gain ground in the provinces where the attitude to LGBT-movement is frosty to say the least. However they are running big risks.
The line that gay rights activists are giving to the public is very straightforward: anyone who is against gay rights Netherlands-style is a homophobic Kremlin stooge. A radical left-libertarian attitude to societal values is recast as a mainstream slogan.
In these circumstances one thing has become very visible: Russia lacks any meaningful movement or party that is conservative in the Western sense of the word. That essentially means – pro-democracy, pro-market, but also pro-family values and traditional attitudes (such as recognizing the importance of faith).
Those claiming to be Russian conservatives often turn out to be individuals with only a tentative grasp on reality, who demand the restoration of the Soviet Union under absolute monarchy, who despise democracy as “a devilish import from America” and advocate mandatory prison sentences for homosexuals.
While many Russians oppose these patently silly laws that discriminate arbitrarily against citizens, not many are quite ready to see the radical redefinition of their values on which the EU seems to insist.
Unfortunately there is no voice of reason between Kremlin propaganda and those who consider reform and democracy to be synonymous with destroying tradition. Russia badly lacks an equivalent of the US Republican Party, and it is by no means inevitable that one will develop.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.